India need everyone to pull in the same direction if they are to snap the losing streak that’s getting longer. Vipin Kumar/HT photo
Seldom has there been so much focus on one individual when an entire team is failing the test of credibility, and struggling to meet the basic yardstick by which it is rated - performances on home turf.
Five-and-a-half years ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was appointed India skipper for the first time as the 'next best option' for the inaugural World Twenty20, and he impressively grew into an expanded role as leader.
But the fatigue in his leadership has been there for all to see, and despite the support from the cricket board and selectors, he is on notice. Dhoni bucked the trend of wicketkeepers not doing well long ago, but since the high of the 2011 World Cup win, it has been downhill for the man once dubbed "Captain Cool".
Despite his recent good batting form, the latest ODI series defeat against Pakistan has put his job on the line ahead of the home Test series against Australia starting late next month.
Still, heading into the first full series of 2013 for the five ODIs against England starting here on Friday, if the man still maintains a calm demeanor, that is due to three reasons.
Firstly, India's brittle batting in the Test series against England and against Pakistan has forced any immediate succession plans to be shelved. While Virender Sehwag has been axed from the ODI team, fellow opener Gautam Gambhir has also looked very shaky and needs to turn things around quickly. Young Virat Kohli, in many eyes the front-runner for captaincy, will have to first recover from the slump the golden boy of Indian cricket has endured since the England Tests.
None of India's top five batsmen managed a fifty in the 1-2 defeat against Pakistan with half the lineup back in the pavilion for less than 100 in the first two ODIs in Chennai and Kolkata.
Secondly, Indian batsmen have every opportunity to get back their touch as pitches for this series, starting with the new venue in Rajkot, promise high-scoring contests. And England, having rested James Anderson and Stuart Broad, may not have the sheer quality and menace of the Pakistan bowling attack.
And a strong recovery for India in this series will not just be crucial for the players but the captain as well. On Friday, Dhoni dismissed questions whether he is under pressure.
"I never question my ability," he stated on Thursday. "That's one thing all the weaker persons do. Before others question you as an individual, you start questioning yourself.
"Self-belief is something that's very important; especially in a team sport, it's important everybody keeps believing in themselves and understands the roles and responsibilities they've got."
Former players have led calls for Dhoni's removal as skipper, or least want the high-pressure job to be split. He didn't give more than a faint hint that it was worth considering. "It's not something that's on my mind right now, before the start of an important series. Let's wait and watch when we get some time off."
That said, Indian batsmen will have their task cut out against the pace of Jade Dernbach and Steven Finn. England skipper Alastair Cook, who inspired the team to a sensational Test series triumph, will be looking for a repeat in the ODIs with Kevin Pietersen and an in-form Ian Bell ready to cash in on good batting conditions.